STILLWATER, Okla. – California head coach Nancy McDaniel had a good feeling after her team was sent to the NCAA Central Regional that was hosted by Oklahoma State at the Karsten Creek Golf Club.
In 14 trips to NCAA Women’s Golf Regional Championships, the Golden Bears had been shipped out of the west region just four times – in 2001 (Central), 2003 (Central), 2006 (East) and 2011 (East). In each of those four trips outside of the region, California advanced to compete in the NCAA Championship rounds.
History continued to repeat itself Saturday after the Bears claimed fourth at the 2014 NCAA Central Regional to earn their second bid to the NCAA Championships in four years. Cal will next return to the state of Oklahoma when Tulsa hosts the finals from May 20-23.
Entering the final day of the tournament one stroke behind the leader and seven strokes above the cut, the Golden Bears posted their highest round of the weekend, but fortunately every team that entered Saturday in the top 10 – excluding leader and eventual champion UCLA – also posted higher rounds than they scored Friday. As a result, the Golden Bears only dropped two spots to fourth and actually increased their distance to the cut by one stroke, finishing the tournament with a 295-294-305=894 (+30).
“We’re just thrilled to get back to nationals and get the program back there,” California head coach Nancy McDaniel said. “I’m thrilled with the effort they put in. It took everything out of them today. Today was really windy, so mentally it was tough out there. UCLA was amazing today to play as well as they did today. It was really windy and really tough. I’m proud of these guys to stick together through the first two rounds and put themselves in position to not have to do anything crazy in the third.”
The fourth-place finish is California’s best team showing since a string of top three finishes from 2002 to 2006, the final being a third-place finish at the 2006 East Regional. In fact, in the now eight times that Cal has advanced to the NCAA Championships, only once have the Bears not finished in the top five in the region. That lone distinction goes to the 2001 team that placed eighth at the Central Regional and was the first Golden Bear team to advance to the championship rounds.
Sophomore Hannah Suh became just the ninth Golden Bear to earn a top 10 finish at an NCAA Regional after placing seventh with a 72-74-72=218 (+2). She joins Sofie Andersson (twice), Claire Dury, Allison Goodman, Pia Halbig, Sarah Huarte, Vikki Laing, Sophia Sheridan (twice) and Anna Temple as Cal players to earn top 10 finishes at a regional.
Freshman Lucia Gutierrez tied for 15th individually with a 75-71-75=221 (+5), and senior Nicola Rössler earned her first career top 25 finish after scoring a 74-73-77=224 (+8) to tie for 24th. Sophomore Carly Childs finished 51st at 231 (+15), and junior Jo Ee Kok scored a 244 (+28).
“We couldn’t have done it without Hannah’s continued solid play,” McDaniel said. “Lucia’s 71 yesterday was very notable to give us a charge. Nico didn’t end the way she wanted to, but she certainly just kept it going through some rough patches in the middle of the round. A senior on the last day of regionals, it’s a lot of pressure, and she handled it well. I think she feels complete now that she’s been able to as a senior take the team back since she hadn’t’ been there since she was a freshman. To lead this team the way she has this year was very fulfilling.”
UCLA won the regional after shooting a tournament-low 287 (-1) Saturday to finish the 54-hole tournament with an 875 (+11). Alabama (892, +28) and Mississippi State (893, +29) rounded out the top three ahead of California.
Also advancing to the NCAA Championships are Ohio State (899, +35), Kansas (899, +35), Arizona (901, +37) and Florida (902, +38).
The NCAA Championships will be held at the 6,194-yard, par-70 Tulsa Country Club from May 20-23. The Golden Bears will travel next weekend before participating in the practice rounds from May 18-19.
“The players have finals next week, so it will be a scheduling and energy challenge, but we’ll get it done,” McDaniel said of preparing for the tournament.
COURSE: Karsten Creek Golf Club (7,449 yards, par-72) – Stillwater, Okla.